Pubpaper 786 – Two years at the Cross Keys

Posted: 1st December 2014 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

What do you call an empty shell of a pub, a few tables and chairs, a cellar which needs totally re-equipping and a bar with an solitary ale pump.  25 months ago you would have called it the Cross Keys in Siddal.   What is now one of the best known ale houses in the Calderdale district was once a deeply unloved Admiral Taverns property.

P1080656_SMALLWhen Hugh and Ruth took over the property they didn’t know what to expect, only armed with a basic plan to turn a profit and create a place people would keep wanting to return to.  When they moved in early Nov 2012; the pub had been closed for an extended period, they knew nobody in the area and it was a huge step into the unknown.

The key thing for Hugh was to get the beer selection right and to do that he had to get a new cellar system up and running.  A full cellar fit out and 6 new pumps later, he had an operating bar.  With the addition of a range of European lagers and choice mainstreams brands he was ready for business a month later when he opened the doors on 7th Dec 2012.

Gone were the days of offering McEwans Export, Carling, John Smith and Stella, in came a regularly rotated range of well kept ales in their place.  Knowing full well they had changed the local pub, they felt a healthy trepidation.  They need not have worried, trade was good and the majority of customers liked the new offerings and the pub was soon going from strength to strength.

It was long hours at first, with Ruth working full time in her day job for the early life of the pub with Hugh pulling 80-100 hour weeks.  After a few months the team grew to 4 people and even two years on the core team is still only 6 strong.  The team is a mix of experienced bar staff and total / relative novices to the pub trade.  What is important to work there is dedication, loyalty, the ability to learn about the keeping and serving of beer as well the core ability to be able to get on with people whatever their walk of life.  All the staff are fully cellar trained and trusted to manage both the condition and selection of beers on a day to day basis.

P1080665_SMALLAs Hugh says “The door has a squeak for a reason, its lets the staff know somebody needs to be acknowledged or served”, and things are kept simple.  Food is limited to a range of locally produced pies, there is live music every Sunday afternoon and plenty of good beer is ready to be drank in the cellar.

The music has become a key offering on the weekend, with the pub being one of the few in the area to offer Sunday afternoon gigs.  Starting in March 2013, both Hugh and Ruth were fans of live music and a monthly performance started the ball rolling, however soon this turned into a weekly event.  The first band was Belt of the Celts and good bands return on a regular basis.  With the pub gaining a reputation of having musically appreciative crowd, new bands are regularly found on the bill.

The main thing they are known for is the beer however, the range of ales being picked to provide a variety of styles, strengths and colours, the 6 pumps allowing this selection.  The customers of the pub know a good ale and their favourites are rolled into the cellar on a regular basis.  However it is also known for having at least one strong beer on most of the time ranging from 6% to 10%.  This started off as a trial of Kirkstall Contemplation, but sold out quickly and became a regular feature of the bar, one of the few places in the area where this is beers of this strength are a fixture of the beer range.

Looking back over the last two years, Hugh is humbled and amazed at how well the business has done and is thankful at how it has been embraced by locals and drinkers further afield alike.  This was recognised in 2014 with both Society for the Preservation of Beer in Wood and local CAMRA awards being presented.  Word of mouth has brought the pub its success, along with the dedicated team of staff and the all important customers.

Hugh, Ruth and team aim to keep improving the pub with a refurbishment maintaining the original period features in the back room continuing into the main bar area after the opening up of the two rooms earlier this year.  And with guest rooms planned for the future, things are not standing still at the Cross Keys, a lot like the range of beers they will continue to offer.